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Monday, 1 June 2009

Tummy trouble

I adopted Ruby, a Cavalier-Corgi cross from the RSPCA in 1999. She was about four years old and had lived all her life in a travellers' compound. She was very anxious, and still is somewhat, but generally has adapted to life with me.
She was perfectly fit and eating a varied diet of normal dog food, but three years ago she developed classic symptoms of acute pancreatitis. She was slightly overweight and a middle-aged bitch, but I also felt that the rats that were getting into my flat had something to do with it. Ruby became obsessed with them - scratching at skirting boards, not sleeping, stalking them etc. The day she became ill she was barking hysterically whilst I was at work and had a huge rat at bay on the bookcase.
Obviously it took some tests to ascertain that she did have panreatitis and she was treated with ampicillin, 'buscapan' to help with the pain and put on Hills i/d food. She currently has half a tin of this twice daily with half a cup of the dried Hills i/d at lunchtime. She has lost weight and is generally very fit and healthy looking.
Unfortunately, twice-yearly she seems to have a bout of pancreatitis, but I have learnt to diagnose it. Last time she had a morphine-based injection which helped with the terrible pain and helped her recover quickly. However, there are other symptoms which I am not sure how to deal with. They only appeared after the pancreatitis was diagnosed.
1. Gurgly tummy, as I call it. This always starts at about 3am and disappears by about 10am. She is in a lot of pain, is very frightened and clingy, and there is an incredible noise coming from her stomach. She usually has one bout of loose stools, but rarely sickness.
She will occasionally eat a scrap of bread that's been left in the park, though this does not mean she will be ill. Also in the controlled environment of my parents' house she has no access to scraps, yet she can be ill. One Christmas the hours slumped in front of the oven paid off and she managed to grab and swallow a red hot roast potato, dripping in fat and she was fine. I used to mix a little Hills i/d dried food in with the tinned, but since reading never to mix cereal with meat for this type of dog, she has been a lot better. I can avoid gurgly tummy if I keep her on ampicillin permanently (250mg daily). Why does this happen so early in the morning? I feed her at 7am, 1pm and 5pm. The food that seems particularly bad for her are normal dog treats and biscuit mixed with meat. I give her three low fat 'milky' biscuits a day, which seems to be fine.
2. Discomfort in her tummy. She seems to be always uncomfortable and can never lie on her stomach. Sometimes it looks bloated, but she does not seem to have any gas coming out. Sometimes she looks sickish, gulps a lot and has more saliva and her breath smells. Sometimes her poos are fatty looking, soft and light coloured. Sometimes she strains, but quite often they are perfectly normal in the same day. She is very lively on walks.
I give her tree bark powder (and I have noticed that if I stop this she develops a little skin irritation near her tail) and mix this with Keeper's Mix which contains kelp, celery seeds, alfalfa, nettle, rosemary, psyllium husks, clivers and wild yarn. I also give her acidophilus powder and aloe vera. She enjoys fresh vegetables, especially celery and carrots. She also eats tomatoes very occasionally and fresh fruit, but I noticed oranges now give her a bad tummy. All these things are in tiny quantities and about once a week.
I suppose I have to learn to cope with all this, so I am not necessarily looking for a cure, but I would love to know what is wrong with her and why. Should I be feeding her something else?
Incidentally, gurgly tummy does not necessarily mean she is going to get pancreatitis. My own vet cannot give me a clear answer about the other tummy complaints. I could not manage her at all if it was not for the ampicillin, but I do not know how long they are willing to prescribe this for me.
She was referred to a vet at Cambridge University who was doing a study on pancreatitis and who gave me much insight and support, but could not give any explanation for gurgly tummy. In fact Ruby had it when we were there but nothing showed up on the scans. Has the pancreatitis affected her intestines/bowels in some way? Being on antibiotics seems to avoid the pancreatis episodes too.
Obviously leaving her when I am away is difficult as not many people realise how important it is that she does not eat their pet's food and I worry that they are not anticipating her episodes and treating them. Luckily I have found a lovely little kennels who do not seem fazed by boarding her - they themselves had a dog with pancreatic insufficency.
I would be very grateful if you could shed any light on her condition and give me some advice.
Suzanne Churchill, Liverpool

Reading your detailed letter has led me to the conclusion that Ruby has been very lucky to find herself with such a dedicated owner. The owner of a dog is usually the best informed when it comes to everyday care of that particular dog, and you certainly seem to know just what makes Ruby tick and in particular what is likely to upset her digestive system.
Access to a researcher into pancreatitis at Cambridge Vet School will have been very useful to both Ruby and yourself. I do come across dogs who experience bouts of 'gurgly tummy', who are usually small breeds such as West Highland White Terriers and, just as with Ruby, the owners can usually pinpoint some dietary indiscretion or environmental trigger. Firework phobia is one such factor, fear of thunderstorms another.
The role of ampicillin in this is not clear cut. It may reflect the need to keep the gut bacteria under control, for example. Provided it is keeping Ruby's digestive system healthy, then I see no reason for her not to stay on it. By the same token, I would imagine that your veterinary surgeon will continue to prescribe it for her whilst it is of benefit to her.
The only factor to spring out at me from your letter was that you are still feeding her a fairly varied diet, not just the i/d. Have you tried her solely on i/d? Is it the tomatoes and other fresh fruit and vegetables which are just keeping the gut bacteria on edge, so that the ampicillin is needed? Celery, for example, is notoriously hard to digest!
Alison Logan, vet

It’s always difficult to try and suggest reasons and causes for problems in a dog I haven’t been able to meet or see full medical records of, but I’ll tell you what my best guess is. I feel it’s very likely Ruby has developed colitis as a consequence of the pancreatic condition. Colitis is typified by sudden onset gurgly tummy, loose stools and abdominal pain. Although sometimes triggered by eating inappropriate food, more often than not diet doesn’t seem to be the trigger factor and the symptoms recur cyclically, whatever diet is fed. There is no doubt in my mind that she will never be clear of this if she is kept on Ampicillin long term. There are some excellent herbal and homoeopathic medicines and supplements that should help to remove the reliance on antibiotics.
One is Slippery Elm (this is a tree bark preparation) which you are already using, but you may need to give much more of it. Other medication, such as homoeopathic Colocynth, Colchicum or Carbo veg amongst many others, could only be prescribed at a consultation. While I don’t think any homoeopathic vet would offer you a guarantee of a cure, it is very likely that natural medicines and supplements together with a review of diet would give a much better control of the problem; almost certainly without the necessity for the Ampicillin
Richard Allport, alternative vet


  1. Hi Suzanne,

    I've no experience of pancreatitis & am not qualified to offer advice, but I'd just like to say well done to you for being such a good, caring dog owner.
    You've obviously gone to a lot of time & trouble to keep Ruby well & fit.

    I hope you managed to get rid of the rats, or moved out...horrifying!

  2. We have now owned 2 dogs with digestive problems and so we have managed to gather a fair amount of experience! Try ANTEPSIN for the gurgly tummy. Ask your vet to either prescibe or give you a prescription so that you can purchase elsewhere. It is a human medicine which lines the tum. Safe for long term use, easy to administer.

  3. does any one know of a over the counter medicane which is similar to antepsin for one of my cocker spaniels who suffers with ulcers